Jeff Ryan, Author & Speaker

Revisiting the Secret Worlds of Colin Fletcher

Photo of The New Complete Walker by Colin FletcherI was in my early 20s, preparing for a six-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail when I picked up a hardcover version of one of the most influential books of my life, The New Complete Walker, by Colin Fletcher.

I had already read his books The Thousand Mile Summer and The Man Who Walked Through Time, both accounts of memorable, “never had been done before” solo trips through the desert-scapes  of the American west. But the Complete Walker was not about someone else’s fantastic journey. It was about my own.

I remember initially reading Fletcher’s gear and clothing recommendations not so much as if I was seated at the feet of the master, but that I was being let in on important information that I could choose to accept or reject. At that relatively young age, I already knew that even though we most often hike with other people, many of the decisions we make before and during any trip are our own. In fact, when it comes to gear and clothing, almost every one of them is. Yet, Colin Fletcher’s well-considered gear list was the standard by which I gauged every choice. Without it, I would have made some poor decisions to be sure.

But more than teaching me what to bring on a hike, Fletcher was inspiring me to leap out of my predictable daily existence to take one. Not just any hike—an audacious, “wonder if I can really do it”, life changing one.

A Path Never Taken Before

Photo of the Thousand Mile Summer by Colin FletcherColin Fletcher’s trips sprung forth from his own inquisitiveness and the USGS’s topographic maps. The book that thrust him onto the national scene was the perfect example.

During a bout of insomnia, Fletcher spontaneously fashioned the idea to walk the length of California. Obsessed with the idea, he plotted a route seldom, if ever, walked by man—including through Death Valley. Many might have looked at that self-drawn plan, declared themselves daft and tossed it aside. But Fletcher was undeterred. Weeks later he was heading north from the border—completely on his own and largely into the unknown.

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Keeping Secrets

The man who walked through timeOne of the interesting things about Colin Fletcher was that the more famous he became, the more secretive he was about where he went. After his book “The Man Who Walked Through Time”, an account of solo hiking the length of the Grand Canyon National Park, he made it increasingly difficult to follow in his footsteps. This was by design. Fletcher wanted us to find our own secret places in the wilds. All we needed to do is use our imaginations and maps, just like him.

In this age of sharing everything to everyone in an instant, it’s an idea worth exploring again. I think I’ll pull some old maps off the shelves and see what I can come up with.

Author’s notes: In 1989, a Colin Fletcher book entitled, The Secret Worlds of Colin Fletcher was published. It remains the only book he wrote that I have yet to read. Nonetheless, the title seemed apt for this blog.

Colin Fletcher died in 2007 at the age of 85. 

Jeffrey H Ryan is an author, adventurer, photographer and historian. He has written several books about his outdoor exploits, his fascination with hiking trails and the people and places found just off the beaten path. His debut book, Appalachian Odyssey: A 28-year hike on America's trail was hailed by the former Executive Editor of National Geographic as "a classic of nature and travel writing" and set off a national tour (in a 1985 VW camper, no less). His books are known for weaving a deep appreciation for history into walks across contemporary landscapes that give readers the feeling they are hiking right alongside. When Jeff isn't trekking, chasing down a great story or spinning yarns from his keyboard, he enjoys sharing his adventures with audiences who love the outdoors. He spends much of his time in his beloved native state of Maine.

Comments

  • March 12, 2017

    I love these stories! And how they “caught” you and sent you packing. Very cool.

    reply
  • Jim Morrison
    April 16, 2020

    Colon certainly displays his sole in the spirit of his writing. Rarely am I so inspired by an author. The Complete Walker is about the gear, and yet it isn’t. It is about the initiative and thoughtful way the gear allows you to be in the wilderness and experience its wonders.

    reply

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